8th June 2015
The first wave of Steam Machines — gaming PCs designed to sit under your living room TV, much like a traditional console — have been revealed. Officially launching in November, just in time for the holiday shopping rush, they could be in eager players’ hands as soon as October.
Unlike PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, there’s no definitive version of the hardware though. While Valve has launched its own SteamOS to run on the various systems, it’s not actually producing Steam Machines of its own. What you get is essentially a regular PC in a smaller case, produced by a variety of manufacturers.
So far, two vendors have announced their Steam Machine ranges, though neither appear ready for UK consumers. Alienware’s take on the hardware only says it’s coming in November for the UK, though it’s available for pre-order through the manufacturer’s American site, via retailer GameStop. Its current “Alpha” model is available in the UK now though, in various hardware configurations, priced from £498.99 to £748.99. The Alpha differs from the “main” Steam Machine in that it comes with Windows 8.1, though it will be possible to install SteamOS on them. We await further details on Alienware’s UK Steam Machine plans.
Syber’s alternatives are equally US-centric, though its options give a good look at the tech packed in. The $499 (£326) Steam Machine I is Syber’s entry level model, with an Intel i3 processor, 4GB RAM, 500GB disk space, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX750 graphics card, but expect to pay $1419 (£927) for its X model, with an i7 chip, 16GB RAM, 1TB hard drive and a GTX 980 with 4GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory. Again, there are prototype Steam Machines from Syber available from UK retailers, but nothing firm on release dates for the real thing.
Aesthetically, Alienware’s offerings are much sleeker, with glossy casing and smooth, almost featureless facades compared to Syber’s teched-out, glowing beasts (with a fan vent that makes it look reminiscent of 16-bit consoles, oddly enough). Other manufacturers, including Asus and Zotac, are expected to announce their own versions of Steam Machines in the next few weeks — expect more from E3 at the very least.
Although PC gaming has dramatically taken off in recent years, the concept of Steam Machines does leave some nagging doubts about future proofing. The rapid evolution of components for PC gamers could render some of the planned units outdated in a short window — already, none include breakthroughs such as high bandwidth memory — though Alienware does say “the CPU, memory, hard drive and wireless cards are upgradable”.
In Your Hands
Whichever rig you might go for, you’ll need a way to play the games on it from your sofa. Having announced its unorthodox new Steam Controller way back in September 2013, Valve has also offered a closer look at the unlikely joypad with a video introduction.
Some of the unique functions outlined include dual-function triggers, with analogue pressure sensitivity (shown employing variable zoom in a shooter) yielding to a digital click to pull off a shot. It also features twin trackpads, replacing the traditional d-pad and offsetting the usual four physical face buttons, and a single analogue stick on the left. The right trackpad effectively doubles as a mouse cursor, making the likes of strategy, sim, and city building games far more playable from the couch. There are also rear grip buttons, giving an extra level of input.
All buttons can be customised for each game, and users will be able to download customised controller layouts from the Steam community. Up to four controllers can be linked to the Steam Machines announced so far, though there is the potential for more. It also offers easy web browsing, and promises quick and easy text input via an onscreen keyboard. That last part has been promised by many companies though, so we’ll remain sceptical on that point until we get
Considering the closest thing to an “official” joypad for PC games has, for years now, been an Xbox 360 controller, Valve’s offering stands to really disrupt play styles. Once developers get to grips with the Steam Controller’s original features and button layouts, there could be some really innovative games that work best on it.
Unlike the Steam Machines, the Steam Controller can be preordered in the UK now for £39.99. If your gaming PC is already up to spec or you’re not planning on getting a dedicated Steam Machine, it’s also available in a bundle with the Steam Link, a streaming module that connects to your home network and displays games from your PC on the TV using Steam’s Big Picture mode.